“Backsliders”

What makes these buggers tick?

You’d think they’d be a little more grateful;

Us, giving it to them.

Why go there, when they’d lose all this?

The electricity, quinine and Handel.

 

The jungles aren’t any safer than our jails,

Plus the cholera, humidity and snakes.

But they’re ultimately savages, the rational doesn’t hold.

I suppose they like it out there… makes them feel something;  

 

Anyway send the garrisons more guns;

Bibles and cheap booze to the civil stations.

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The Minority Question in Khasi Jaintia Hills

The water seems to have cleared up a bit and so maybe it is the right moment to dip one’s feet in the pond – unsettle things. There has been a large amount of correspondence in the Shillong Times – back and forth – around the issue of whether our local “indigenous faiths” (and those following them) should qualify for “minority” status. If they attain the desired outcome, possibly through reservation, then the perks and advantages attached to “minority” would be open to them (more so than before). So there have been various quarters that have taken this up as an issue for debate. There are some who have straight away rubbished such claims, and there are others who have taken to defending them. Few have said that there is no need for ‘reservation’ because there is no such discrimination against the NiamTre or Niam Tynrai followers. This is hardly correct (more on this later). Still others have got around to philosophizing and discussing the nature of religion, definitions of faith and other stuff. Of them, I ask: whether they are religions or faiths or whatever, do we simply belittle the sentiments of a people who feel slighted? Do people care about the definitions or the real material conditions that they encounter in their day-to-day life?

So the key word here is “discrimination”. This main point of contention is very fascinating for our particular context. We have always, supposedly, been at the receiving end of the stick and our entire political discourse is premised on the presumption of “defense” except for this case in question. In January, I along with a researcher friend, Bhogtoram Mawroh, travelled to Mawsynram, in the company of some pastors. As we made our way along the Lyngiong- Tyrsad road, one of them turned to the other and said “Ithuh phi mo, ki jaka bym pat long Kristan” (you can recognize, places which are non-Christian, by the way they look). My friend looked at me, smirked and shook his head. He did this because we had actually talked about something along those lines much before that moment. Much of our respective works involve travelling to and visiting villages in Khasi, Jaintia Hills. Therefore, it quickly dawned on us that development patterns (roads, electricity, sanitation) within these parts of the state seemed more inclined towards one particular demographic than others (namely Khasi Christians). We are currently pursuing means to validate this supposition. This is not in any way a mission to ‘politicize’ “inclusion/exclusion,” it is for the sake of knowledge.

There are many reasons why the ‘indigenous faith’ followers might be sidelined. The major and most obvious one is because they are fewer in number than the Christians. A political representative such as an MLA would sadly be more inclined to help realize the aspirations and ambitions of the majority. Even if she/he belonged to the minority group, ultimately the majority would have to be satisfied if she/he were interested in being re-elected for the next term. To change this would be far and away an extremely arduous but necessary task. However, even if a more “representative” representation were achieved, the systemic discrimination would be harder still to overcome. How would one begin to confront the privileges accumulated over decades that have been enjoyed by the Christians? How would one begin to unwind the ‘power’ cliques and political “spaces” that have become their prerogative? Would a form of reservation really do anything to uplift the plight of the ‘indigenous faith’ followers? Would it be constructive in the long run, or would it tear our community asunder?

The conclusion I surmise is that this is essentially a critique on the very idea of “reservation” itself. I am not against the idea, I think it is absolutely essential for a more just and egalitarian society. However, even as we ‘rejoice’ in the status of being a Scheduled Tribe (ST) we must acknowledge the bitter reality that most of the benefits and advantages of being ST are enjoyed by the middle and upper classes. I doubt that the poorer sections of our society, and especially those in the villages, can claim to have gained much from an ST/SC certificate. This is the danger too with the current plea by the Sein Raij and co. I am sure they would have thought hard upon this as well. If the minority benefits all go to a Niam Tynrai businessman’s family in Shillong and not villagers like those in Lyngiong-Tyrsad then it would have failed in its objective, in my opinion.

I think that the way forward is to reach out to one another, calling out progressive Christians and non-Christians alike to come together and attempt to alleviate the suffering of others. Orthodoxy, on all sides, is the enemy. In this regard, we have to grow bonds stronger than the religious ones. Pressure and lobbying groups that can bring people together rather than pull them apart should be encouraged. For this to happen, we need dialogue. It might be painful, embarrassing even but it must be initiated. We do not need “outsider” organizations to come and perform charity puja. In our need for political allies and powerful friends we seem to forget that we have more in common with each other (Christian and non-Christian) than Right wing nut-jobs who seek to further widen the schism. This is as true for the Hindutva as it is for the Evangelical Fundamentalists. The tragedy could be that these characters might actually come together to vilify and demonize Muslims (the “dreaded” Bangladeshis) O what a big joke that would be! That cannot be allowed to transpire without resistance.

Frankly speaking, the Niam Tre/Tynrai already have a trump card. On the cultural front, they have won and politics and culture are intertwined. Unless they approach the matter with open-mindedness and self-criticism, Christian Khasis can never truly be “Khasi” again. There are many who would raise objections to this statement and they have interesting points to make regarding definitions of identity, language, customs etc. My point, however, is that from within a conservative or orthodox Christianity (which is most of our Christianity!) we cannot ever (through fear or censure) really know what it is like to be “Khasi.” I realize that many might have problems with my investing so much authority with the Niam Tre et al. After all, are they not also modern? Have they, also, not been changed by the times? How could they survive if they were static all this while? The Niam Tre et al have undoubtedly altered as well but in terms of cultural luggage (the folktales, the beliefs, the songs, dances) they are probably our best custodians. They could be actively teaching the Christians a few things about our common past and maybe with that our collective futures would be clearer, brighter. There would be no need for “defense” or preservation then. They can be the initiators of real ‘growth’, but it must be inclusive.

If You’re Going To Kill, Strike!

Brave new world filled with Facebook bravado;
A time to rejoice in the self, commend the genius flow,
A time to run and hide behind bold words,
A time to skip along and be free to hurt;
But the brave stop and tremble before God
They dare not strike him with their sword;
The brave still fear and some walls still stand
Instead they attack politicians, editors, anyone at hand;
Then make their way to sacrament, to sacred bread
Still worship at the temple, still must bow their proud heads.

Wan Phai Ban Pynbha Biang

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Sa shi sien, la kha biang ia me, la kynmaw ieid biang namar ba ki wah ki la rngat bad ki miet, kjam. Mynta ki sla ki la iap bad ki lum, syllen. La dei ka por wad jingkyrmen biang. Kumta hi ha ki sngi kha. Man u snem u wan noh ha PB, bad ki briew kim klet ban wan mane ia u. Ki wan dem ha me uba sympat ia ki nongkhayi; ha iew.

Ki thrang ban iohi ia ka jingwan arsien jong me. Kumno men wan? Kum ka eriong bad leilieh? Kum ka wait bad sum? Kum u jumai bad ding? Ne kum ka Pyrem bad ki sla jyrngam? Kum ka Erbatemon bad um pjah? Kum ka Jingkmen bad ki kot thymmai?

Wan, wan ban pynbha biang. Tangba lada me wan, kyrsiew shwa, kum ia u Lazarus, ia kito ki ba shah thang im ha ki por iakhih ki sengbhalang. Kyrsiew ia baroh kiba shah thombor tang namarba ki pher na ngi. Kyrsiew ia kito kiba pynrit mynsiem ha khmat kiba heh, kumjuh kiba shah bein tang namarba kim mane ia me. Kyrsiew khamtam ia ki dohnud maw jong ki nongbud jong me. Pynum ia u thah uba sop ia ki mynsiem jong ki.

Wan, wan ban pynbha biang. Ai biang ha ka Elaka Sutnga bad Elaka Narpuh ia ki tyllong um ba khuid, kibym ai jingpang ia kiba dih ne sum ha ki. Kumjuh ha Byrnihat bad Nongtalang.

Lada me wan ban pynbha shisha, pynbha ia kine ki khlur rit bad ophisar kiba shong ha khmat iingmane. Pyni ka dur shisha jong me ha ki. Ba me kham ia jan bad ki nongkhrong ban ia ki saipan, ba me shong bad ki nongdiekwai, ba mem pat ju poi sha Times Square, ba mem shym beh ia ka burom ne spah hapor ba me dang im ha pyrthei.

Lada me wan shisha, wan biang na trep na sem mrad; wan biang kum u nongpynim jong ka shnong ka thaw; u nongpyrsad mynsiem ia ka imlang sahlang; wan biang kum u nongpyllait im ia ki mraw.

Yo, God

Yo, God I’ve got a question for you.
Are you Jew, Muslim, Christian or Hindu?
Do you hear when they talk or are you blank as my wall?
Are you small and compact and sit inside a room,
Or is it a tomb that houses your presence?
Can your essence be spread by just one faith,
And can they teach hate for the ones who can’t understand?
God, are you man, transgender or animal?
Do you have mandibles, fur or down?
Are you a clown? A non serious god, an old uncle who lives down the street?
Do your feet rise above the ground, or are you like us:
Not far from the dust and dirt and piss and cigs ?
God, don’t stay with the Big; come out of those stuffy spots-
Those churches, ‘gogs, mosques and temples- run outside, quick!

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Khasis First

And as children, elders told us never to disturb the stones –
That is, the flat dolmen and the upright monoliths around it.
So we revered the stones, gave thanks to them, remembered.
We were Christians, but Khasis first.

In Mawphlang, we always feared the spirits of the Sacred Forest,
On Lum Kyllang, we remembered never to swear atop the dome,
To Lum Sohpetbneng, we made our pilgrimage like the faithful.
We were Christians, but Khasis first.

******************************************

In Jowai, I sunned myself, on the terrace of a rich man’s house,
Smiling at how frightened his sisters were of a new grave nearby.
Money has not changed them. Yet. They still fear the old fears.
They are Christians, but Khasis first.

Now the sacred stones are strewn aside, waiting to be ground;
Sacred woods are now in the way of progress and bulldozers.
Now we can explain away the fears, the tales of magical events
We are hardly Christians and no longer Khasis.